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COLUMNISTS

Sun, August 22, 2004

Barney leaves Buffy bawling


For the first time in weeks, Buffy Williams could be a loving, let-it-all-spill out wife. There she stood dockside at the Schinias Rowing and Canoe Centre yesterday with a smile as wide as a boat and the blazing morning sun giving sparkle to the tears streaming down her cheeks.

Her own Olympic experience had ended an hour earlier when, along with partner Darcy Marquardt, she had finished fourth in the women's pair rowing final.

Now she was Buffy Williams, wife of Olympic silver medallist Barney. As her husband walked on to the medal dock with his partners Jake Wetzel, Cam Baerg and Tom Herschmiller, Buffy lost it.

"That was a race people will remember for a long time," the St. Catharines native said, clutching father-in-law Tom's hand. "I'm so, so proud of him. He gave it everything he had."

Buffy had watched the men's four final from this vantage point, away from the boisterous "support-oars" -- the Canadian cheering section here in Greece.

She watched as her husband's boat knifed through the water in the closing strokes, desperately chewing up ground on the winning British crew.

And like all those who watched the race live, she held her breath waiting for the photo finish result.

"It's a lot harder to be a spectator than it is to be an athlete," said Buffy Williams, daughter of one-time Maple Leafs defenceman Claire Alexander. "It is a lot easier than watching a loved one or a friend."

And what a race she watched. With 500 metres to go, the world champion Canadians led the Brits by a half-second. With 200 metres to go, the British had reversed that and looked to have control until the Canadians launched a powerful, desperate sprint.

The final separation was .08 of a second, an agonizingly close margin over 2,000 metres.

This was a case where silver truly wasn't a consolation prize. Not when each of the four on the Canadian crew could look each other in the eyes and know nothing was left in the boat.

Not when their rubberized arms could barely be lifted to salute the Canadian fans. And certainly not when the big reason they finished second was the presence of the great British oarsman Mathew Pinsent, who had just won his fourth Olympic gold.

"This was about the smallest of margins, the best of performances," Wetzel said. "I think it is (these races) that really make the Olympics special."

So Buffy Williams stood dockside soaking up the scene from a special day, collecting the memories to tell the children the two intend to have one day.

The smile never left her face except when she yelled "way to go Barney" as the medallist's wreath was placed on his head.

All week, husband and wife had talked about their physical separation -- he trained in Victoria, she in London, Ont. -- in search of Olympic medals and how it was an acceptable pre-nup arrangement. It was believable too, until you saw Buffy's face during the medal ceremony.

"I'm a little frustrated I haven't been able to spend as much time with her as I wanted to these Games," Barney said. "When we both crossed the line today, I felt like we gave it our best."

Four years ago, after not making the Olympic team, Barney accompanied his then wife-to-be to Sydney. He painted his face red and white and led the cheers as Buffy won bronze with the women's eight.

It was special motivation for the journey Barney completed so admirably yesterday.

"It was one of the best things I did in my life," Barney said. "To go down there and see what Buffy did and all the emotion took the edge off.

"What she did in 2000 inspired me."

This fall, the Barney and Buffy show will go to England to study at Oxford University. Prior to yesterday, there was a hint their Olympic days were over as the rest of their life awaited.

In the thrill of the medal moment yesterday, that all might have changed.

"Don't count us out," Barney said. "The two of us love sports. There's no mixed doubles in the Olympics ... that's too bad."

THE PODIUM

ROWING, MEN'S COXLESS FOUR

GOLD - Britain

SILVER - CANADA (Cameron Baerg, Thomas Hersch- miller, Jake Wetzel, Barney Williams)

BRONZE - Italy


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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